Sunnyvale, California, United States
February 05
I was born the same year Kennedy was assassinated. My parents got divorced during the Summer of Love ('67) I'm not a journalist, I'm just a dedicated Democratic Library Assistant with a lot of bottled-up rants. But I'll try to be amusing when possible. _________________________ My Late Friend Kim would agree with this: "Nobody should die because they can't afford Health Insurance. Nobody should go broke because they get sick." Teddy, Greg and Roger, I'm SO with you on this one. And also with everyone else displaying this. --------- "I wrestle like Jane Austen and write like Jesse 'The Body' Ventura." Justice must be done for Trayvon Martin.

JANUARY 13, 2012 8:57PM

How're You Going to Keep 'em Down On the Farm?

Rate: 16 Flag

 Victorian farmhouse


After our next-door neighbor, old Mr. Sullivan died, his urbanized adult children, none of whom were remotely interested in farming, sold the property, house and barn and acreage and all, pretty much as he’d left it.  All they took away with them from that gracious old Victorian farmhouse where they’d grown up were some of the better pieces of furniture.  Mrs. Sullivan was in no position to object, having been committed to a facility in Des Moines due to her Alzheimer’s a decade before.


The Sullivan Farm didn’t sell until the following summer. Despite the desirability of the property, our remote rural setting was a drawback.  Yet we knew as soon as we saw our new neighbors, the Burleys, that they hadn’t bought the Sullivan place because they were into farming, either. They were so unlike everybody else, that they might as well have been extra-terrestrials  in that community of corn and dairy farmers. Our big social event of the year was the Mason County Fair every September.  We knew without having to ask that Mrs. Burley wasn’t going to provide any competition to the local women as far as entering her quilts or her baked goods, pickles or preserves at the Fair was concerned. Rivalry was hot in that department between my mother and all our other female neighbors.  My mother guarded her blue ribbon-winning sour dough biscuit recipe more closely than some nations guarded their nuclear technology.


A month after the new neighbors moved in without their once having attended church on Sundays, real disapproval set in.


“A shame,” my father grunted over his morning coffee before we left on  the first morning of the County Fair.  “Some of the most fertile land in the whole state, and they have no intention of planting anything—not even a vegetable garden.”


“I can’t imagine her doing anything that normal,” my mother snorted. “Not with those ridiculous high heels she wears. She’ll just ruin Jeanne Sullivan’s beautiful old hardwood floors.”


“By November, she’ll learn how impractical they are once she sinks ankle deep into the mud,” my father agreed.


I think she’s hot,” my sixteen year-old brother, Larry, observed with a grin.   


My mother glared at Larry sidelong over her coffee cup.  My parents lived in the comfortable bucolic farming past of my grandparents and great grandparents with great determination. Which never stopped them from fretting about what would happen to our farm once they, like Mr. Sullivan, became too old to run it.  Aside from all her other objections to the Burleys, my mother resented her nose being rubbed in the impossibility of continuing to ignore the 21st century. It was almost never acknowledged, but Larry’s increasing  teenaged  restlessness at being “buried” here made it obvious he wasn’t going to stay at home once he turned 18.  He stoically helped with the milking of our 25 head of Guernseys every morning and evening, but never stopped grumbling that he hated all cows everywhere for eternity while doing so.


 It irked me that they lived in the past in other respects as well; because I was their daughter, my parents never seemed to think maybe I might run the farm myself when they decided to retire from it.  We were a little buried, I suppose, but I felt more rooted was a better term.  I loved our green then gold cornfields and the high, pale blue prairie sky arched over them like the inverted inside of some priceless Chinese bowl. I loved our dramatic summer storms and the windbreaks of big trees fringing our fields and those of our neighbors which were beautiful in all seasons. I even loved the piles of snow we got every winter which buried us in earnest although I was less thrilled with milking our cows on pre-dawn winter mornings.  I was fourteen though, and hadn’t yet decided absolutely that farming was for me.  I was also aware that our lives were a giant anachronism, and by the time I was of an age to run the farm, all possibility of making a living at it might be completely gone.  Best to keep my options open.




Lady Gaga 


I met Mrs. Burley  for the first time that afternoon in the preserves tent during the judging. I had a mason jar of my own particular blackberry jam in the competition.  Mrs. Marshall had taken the blue ribbon for her rhubarb jam for three years running, and the rest of us were all jockeying to take her place at the top this year. I was up against a field of grown women all of whom were jam making experts, and doubted I was in spitting distance of the blue ribbon, but I knew I had made a mean batch of blackberry jam, all the same.


Mrs. Ogilvy’s red currant jelly was being judged right at that moment and all the women in the tent were watching the way stockbrokers might watch the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange.    The current judge from over in Cleveland County was not taking things nearly seriously enough to satisfy the competitors.  Judges did not smile or crack jokes. Our collective low opinion of Cleveland County was sinking by the minute. Stone-faced objectivity was required at all times, and this judge hadn’t even held the jar up to the sunlight to observe the beautiful color and clarity Mrs. Ogilvy's jelly had achieved.  Mrs. Ogilvy was watching him through narrowed eyes, arms crossed over her pillowy breasts, obviously doubting his competence.


“Excuse me,” a low female voice whispered in my right ear, even as I felt her hand on my right shoulder and stiff edge of her hat brim brush against the side of my head.


I jumped and turned and caught my own reflection in the dark lenses of Mrs. Burley’s huge round sunglasses. Her hand on my shoulder was a human woman’s hand as to shape, number of fingers and the opposable thumb.  But after that, it was entirely unlike my mother’s. Mom’s hands were all business, the hands of a gardener and a housekeeper with calloused palms and freckled backs, the nails filed short so she could play the piano at church services.  This woman's hand was pale as a glove, the fingers long and thin, and the filed nails—or nail extensions—were painted blue-black with a subtle dark glitter to them and extended a good half-inch from the ends of Mrs. Burley’s finger tips. From neck to wrists to ankles she was dressed completely in black. I wasn’t sure if it was a pant suit of some kind or if it was a form fitting long black dress. All I could think of was how hot she must be on this baking heat.  She would have been taller than I was  even in  flat shoes, but her incredibly high heeled boots forced her to lean down even further. I could only see her face from cheek bones to jaw, and I could see she was beautiful, but the tattoo of a snake wrapped around her throat made me do a double take.  And her hat—


Well, local women often wore gardening hats or sun hats, and there was hardly a man in our community who didn’t own a faded feed store cap or two.  They were all about practicality to keep the sun out of the wearer's eyes though and nobody wore them as fashion statements.  Mrs. Burley’s hat was like an inverted salad bowl of stiffened black net with shreds of sheer black veiling sewn to the crown that spilled down and hung down far enough to cover her shoulders. Her blonde hair hung down even farther. In that tent filled with women   in cotton and seersucker summer dresses and teenaged girls in jeans and tee-shirts, all of us wearing some variety of sandals or sneakers, Mrs. Burley looked light years out of place. I saw those glossy dark-tinted lips move as she asked me a question. 


“Uh..I’m sorry, what did you say?”


“Doesn’t anyone around here understand simple questions?” Mrs. Burley snapped. “I  said, ‘where are the livestock barns’, kid?”


“Oh!  Sorry. Turn right outside this tent and walk all the way down to the grandstand, then turn right, again.”


“Thanks,” Mrs. Burley muttered and left, walking out of the tent as if she were on a high-fashion runway as top model from a Goth fashion agency.


“So that’s your new next door neighbor eh, Grace?” Mrs. Tarleton asked me, also watching Mrs. Burley leave with avid if disapproving curiosity.




“And what does she want with livestock, I wonder?” Mrs. Patterson muttered.


“I doubt we’d want to know, Betty,” Mrs. Tarleton answered.  Everyone turned around and redirected our attention to the judging of the interrupted jam judging which had stopped without my having realized it.  I could picture Mrs. Burley outside now, walking along in her strange hat and clothes, and the way conversations would hang in the air unfinished until she’d past. I could picture the heads turning and the whispers begin, as if she were the unpopular new kid at the unfriendly high school that was this fair and this community.  Mrs. Burley hadn’t seemed self-conscious, but perhaps it was an act, for her.  Perhaps those whispers and those looks raked at her the way they would if she were just another insecure high-school freshman.   Why she wanted the livestock barn, I couldn’t imagine what with the wealth of manure that lay on the ground over there, and her with her trouser hems brushing the dust at her heels. Despite myself, I felt sorry for her.




One evening about two weeks later, Dad and I were bringing in the cows for milking.  I was looking around for Larry knowing what trouble  he'd be  if he didn't help with the chores.  Fortunately, I saw him come running up the road from the direction of the Sullivan's old house. He avoided Dad and kept his face averted, but I could see he’d come back reluctantly. 


“Where were you?” I whispered when I’d deliberately chosen to milk Peach who stood in the stanchion next to Sassafrass whom Larry was currently milking.


“I snuck over to the Burley’s barn,” he whispered over his shoulder. “Heard music playing and found out it was coming from inside.” He chuckled the way he did when he made a joke and wanted to force me to ask him about what it meant.  Which almost always meant it was a dirty joke, as he thought  I needed to toughen up. Or that he wanted to hold his superior knowledge of the world over my head whenever he needed to feel sophisticated and big-brotherly.


I sat milking Peach for a while, consciously refusing to ask. Sometimes holding out worked on Larry.


“What kind of music?” I finally asked when my curiosity won the battle.


“They were making some kind of music video, I think,”  Larry whispered back after making sure Dad wasn’t standing close by. “They’re way more interesting neighbors than Old Man Sullivan, that’s for sure.”


“Were they just playing music, or were they doing anything else?”


Larry laughed in that annoying way, again.  “Wouldn’t you like to know?  But I wouldn’t want to corrupt my innocent baby sister.”




“Still not telling,” he answered.  “I’ll tell you this much though, Grace. They sure as hell aren’t milking cows over there!”



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OMG the livestock barns! Oh icky....but I LOVED your story you had me all the way to the end.
Nice piece that captures a disappearing way of life. When I moved to Hunterdon County 36 years ago it was a rural, farm community. Mostly dairy farms and peach growers. Today the milk comes from somewhere else and the peaches from Guatemala....and so it goes. R
I gasped when I saw your title. That is the same thought I got from the video. I'm excited to read your piece but just had to say wow to the title first thing.
Yes, I had that same theme too and I love all your descriptions of rural life. The outfits and lifestyles show the conflict. Great ending with the teenage boy finding out a whole other world in the new neighbors. They sure aren't milking cows over there! I don't have any judgments here. In my story I tried to meld the two worlds and I think you did too. We have no choice. The future is now and we "aren't in Kansas any more.!"
Okay, confession time: I didn't know the prompt again for this week but I get lost in the richness of your story telling and the vivid descriptions that place me right there among the characters, looking at them up close. Mrs Burley made me think of Cruella in her appearance and mannerisms. What are livestock barns that make LL2 cringe? What video is Zanelle referencing?
Good story, Mel.
Keeper. I Loved your title.
I worked with a carpenter.
We'd pass a mansion. Ha!

He'd say great rural sense:
He had work-skills. Survive!
No honest man lives there!
I said:`
Maybe he's a baker, banker,
and invest in war weapons.
Wildred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And toward our distant rest began to trudge,
Men marched asleep. Many lost their boots
But limped on, blood shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

[gas bombs - weapons - wall street stock investments]

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound`ring in fire or lime . . . . .

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea. I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning

[classic PTSD - a normal response - view bloody war]

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that w flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as caner, bitter at the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues-
My friend, you would not tell me such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Propatri mori.
Wilfred Owen - He was Welsh and killed in 1918
War and the pity of war. Go see war? Why Lie?
Sleep in monsoon. Walk in mud-filth. Jingoist!
I really enjoyed this, especially the narrator's voice, and the ending - I thought you were going to make her a vampire and she'd get caught drinking from the cows or something! Your descriptions were great and so vivid - I especially loved the sky like an inverted Chinese bowl. Very well done!
I noticed goold 'ole older/exasperated Rated you.

My rate buttons have been broken since day # day`1'.

I am considering getting a pawned pair of chopsticks.

I'll make editor a bowl of upside down broccoli cake.

He can use a barn stall pitchfork. I swear he's nasty.
He 'ought' to pawn a corncob bowl pipe and behave.
He thinks he's the chef at the White House? Sam K.?
Sam Kass NO need any pastry chef to cook pork chop.
Let's wonder? I may trade a gadget in for weed whacker.
He may ride a lame Boar goat and sport a green goatee.
He needs a window with a View. Rant. Buy a typewriter.
It's s cool to have a manuel worker job. He seem stinky.
Maybe he's passing gas, wind, and eats old blue cheese.
He hock
aid? Hoe.
No ears?
clog up?
It's a long story.
I gripe since @
Salon. Oho!

That cost 2 X $45.
That adds to $90.
Refunds No come.

goat gouda blueberry
clownsense (no paid)

I ignore vain adds.
Why buy crap scat?
He one` King cook.
He thinks he cute.
I don't normally read fiction, so I read this as real, & enjoyed ~ thank you.
"hardly a man in our community who didn’t own a faded feed store cap or two. "

Hilarious. I grew up on a farm and I could picture this perfectly, with the wide turns farmers make even when driving a car, the two finger wave that annoyed me endlessly...very entertaining....loved it.
I have to smile, recalling the satyric video and imagining having such down-home neighbors! Very nice perspective. Even if you haven't seen the video, the story is touching in its set-up and intriguing in it's ending. You also hinted at a nice upcoming story with the young girl and her ties to that farm.
Nicely done. I think you nailed the County Fair in both description and atmosphere, particularly when Ms Burley walked through it.
♥╚═══╝╚╝╚╝╚═══╩═══╝─╚For showing me a house I adore and the story to go with it.